Top pregnancy and baby myths busted

music pregnant
music pregnant 

Ever wondered if baby brain was a scientifically supported phenomenon, or perhaps pondered the value of those DVDs that promise to make your child smarter?

Researcher Andrew Whitehouse’s book Will Mozart Make My Baby Smart? explores a range of popular old wives tales around conception, pregnancy and babies – and some of his answers may surprise you. Here are a few of the classics.

Baby brain – true or false?

When Nicole Leszczynski, her husband Marcin and two-year-old daughter Zofia went shopping when Nicole was thirty weeks pregnant with their second child, Nicole became famished and dizzy. She decided to pick up a sandwich or two to eat as they roamed the aisles with the full intention of paying for the goods at the register later. As you’d expect, being under the baby brain heading, they got to the counter, paid for all their groceries … except for the sandwiches, which Nicole had forgotten about.

Andrew Whitehouse's mythbusting book is out now.
Andrew Whitehouse's mythbusting book is out now. 

Nicole and Marcin offered to pay for the sandwiches, claiming baby brain as their excuse, but four hours later the police arrived, handcuffed them both and drove them separately to the station, where they were searched, questioned, and had their mugshot taken. Their child was taken into custody by Child Services for the night.

The story does have a happy ending – after they spilled their tale of woe to local media outlets several petitions sprung up in the blogosphere calling for a national boycott of the store. Within 24 hours Safeway released a statement saying they would not press charges and apologising to the family.

Thankfully, my own baby brain moments were limited to locking keys in the car, myself out of the house and saying some rather obtuse and brain dead sounding things at dinner tables.

So what does the science say?

Surprisingly, an Australian study gave baby brain the big thumbs down. Recruiting 1241 women aged between 20 and 24, the researchers assessed their cognitive ability, including every sort of memory test that you could possibly imagine, repeating the tests on two more occasions at four year intervals. The result? Women’s memory ability was no different according to whether they were footloose-and-fancy-free, pregnant, or with a newborn. 

But Whitehouse proposes an alternative theory: he suggests the fuzzies are due to a combination of new motherhood being a busy time with a lot of big life changes (which would make anyone forgetful), and that we’ve heard so much about ‘mumnesia’, we simply assume that’s what’s going on when we forget anything while pregnant. 

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Will Mozart make my baby smart?

Another popular old wives tale is that listening to Mozart will improve the IQ of your baby. While the original study that started the craze was conducted on adults, it has led to a booming industry in ‘Mozart for babies’.

So what does the science say?

This is another busted myth. Numerous studies failed to replicate the same results of the original 1993 study, so a group of Austrian researchers reviewed all the research available – a whopping 39 studies with more than 3000 participants. They found that Mozart wasn’t the only music that seemed to increase IQ scores: numerous studies had found that exposure to country and western, rock’n’roll, and other classical music also led to a small boost in IQ. 

The boost however, was not as long term as expected. “Certain forms of music have the ability to grab our attention and influence our mood, and the subsequent increased level of attention and arousal will almost always lead us to perform better when we undertake certain tasks – like IQ tests,” says Whitehouse – so perhaps the key is to play Mozart (or other forms of music) before exams when the child is older. 

Are firstborns always smarter? 

Studies over time have shown a slightly higher IQ in firstborn children. In my own life, my eldest appears to have the slight edge (though it is early days), but my younger sister was miles ahead of me when it came to smarts. 

So what does the science say? 

Whitehouse says well-conducted studies have shown that first-born children have higher IQ scores and are more conscientious than later-born children. However, these effects are very small and appear to be due to social influences. The magnitude of ‘the birth order effect’ on IQ and personality is extremely small, and the effect is dwarfed in importance by the quality of the home environment. 

It’s an interesting finding. My eldest reads at very high level, but he grew up being read to from day one; poor number two got a lot less one-on-one time reading when younger. So while this myth isn’t exactly busted, it does remind me to give my younger child all the opportunities my eldest gets – well, as many as possible, anyway. 

Will your baby love carrots as much as you do? 

As Whitehouse says, there aren’t too many topics about pregnancy more controversial than what a mother-to-be can and can’t eat. But one of the old wives’ tales that has always interested me is whether or not maternal diet influences your child’s tastes later in life. 

So what does the science say?

Studies have found that a mother’s diet during pregnancy can change the odour of the amniotic fluid in which a foetus grows. When the foetus swallows this fluid, the olfactory (smell) receptors in the nose are exposed to these odorous molecules. The foetus is then familiar with these ‘smells’ so will have a preference for foods with these flavours once they are born.

On the flipside, recent studies have emerged showing mums-to-be eating lots of junk food can lead to children that struggle to avoid the lure of the golden arches throughout their life. But before you add to the teetering pile of mummy guilt, the junk food challenge is influenced by many more factors than this!  

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